Strands of Genius: The History and Sociology of Xmas Presents, StLouis Digital Symposium, Jedi Jungle
plus our thoughts on presents and presence
WRITING FROM | Beersheba Springs, TN
WORKING ON | Final stages of contract negotiation/procurement processes for a partnership next year
Nov 24 - Jan 16: Nashville, TN
:: WHAT’S NEW & WEEKLY GRATITUDE ::
Jingle bells Jingle bells jingle all the way…yuletide is upon us, bringing its songs, shopping, stress and celebrations. We did it! We’ve almost made it to the winter solstice [Yule is (probably) derived from Jol, the old Norse Pagan festival that became Christmas] the longest night of the year that marks the end of this trip around the sun and the slow return to light.
It’s a time to reflect and regroup [whether or not we can do that physically this year], to burn fires brightly against the night outside, and rekindle the embers of human kindness and fellowship. And, of course, presents!
Seasonal giving is crucial for modern consumer-driven economies but for as long as anyone can remember culture has been up in arms about the commercialization of Christmas [as though religions aren’t massive commercial enterprises using holidays as cultural marketing events like National Sandwich Day but we digress]. In fact, according to one of the links today, the commercial aspect and complaints about it have been a core part of the season since the 1800s, when the modern form of Christmas began to form, as it shifted from a public to a private celebration focused on family, not community more broadly.
Of course, we should always be focused on being there with loved ones, on human-kindness and compassion and fellowship! Even to people who don’t celebrate x! and say ‘happy holidays’, or whatever they feel like saying, or usually say in their community! It’s the THOUGHT that counts, right? Where were we? Oh yes - presents!
Rosie has an excellent rule of thumb for gift buying: it should either be something based on their interests (preferably that they wouldn’t buy for themselves) or something based on your interests, that you are sharing with them. You can show your love by knowing what they’re into and finding something they didn’t know they wanted, or you can show your love by sharing something that you love, and want them to experience. The key is being thoughtful. (You can also show your love other ways, who are we to tell you how to do it?!)
This year, it’s been practically impossible to see or hug anyone at all, for a long time, so we’re sending out presents as reminders - that we exist, that we still love you and care about you, that we [Faris] isn’t great at phone calls back to the UK but know you are in our hearts. They are love letters, really. Presents, as Santa Claus always understood, are a substitute for presence. Ho. Ho. Ho.
“To make a gift of something is to make a present of some part of oneself." - Marcel Mauss, The Gift
This week, we’re especially thankful for:
Big fires and new fireplace grates, firelighters, family fun, mountain medicine, whichever Adam Sandler Netflix movie it was, The Speed Cubers, fancy mac and cheese, leaving leftovers behind, landscaping tasks, a final soak in the hot tub before it got drained, and an almost-finished paint-by-numbers.
St.Louis AdClub presents CHAOS TO SIMPLICITY : Digital Symposium
St. Louis Ad Club Digital Symposium
December 8th-10th | our slot: Dec 8th @ 12p CT
We're thrilled to be a part of an awesome lineup (alongside other thinkers we admire, like Rachel Mercer, Derek Walker, Shann Biglione and Mark Pollard amongst others) for Ad Club St. Louis' Digital Symposium.
We'll be delivering our talk Actions & Ads: Brand Strategy in An Age of Uncertainty. If you’d like to join us live, see the other speakers, or share with your colleagues, tickets are only $30, and are available for purchase here. All ticket-holders will be entered to win a lifetime membership to the School of Stolen Genius.
:: THE LINKS ::
THE HISTORY OF CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
The commercialization of Christmas in the form of presents has been baked in since the celebration went private, focused at home on the family, in the 1800s. The modern symbolic elements of Christmas, like the tree [and eventually Santa], are all intimately related to the commercial growth and rise of advertising in the Victorian era, which helped spread particular images in association with the holiday, and it drove innovations in product design focused on gifting, starting with personal Bibles. (Youtube)
THE SOCIOLOGY OF PRESENTS
Giving gifts is often fraught with stress because, sociologists argue, there are lots of underlying codes and rules that are hard to navigate and the exchange is all about relationships, which makes them vitally important. “Mauss identified three obligations associated with gift exchange: giving, which he equates with the first step in building a social relationship; receiving, which signifies acceptance of the social relationship; and reciprocating, which demonstrates the recipient’s integrity. If gifts are refused or unreciprocated, relationships can be threatened.” Who you give gifts to, what they are and how many of them you give to who are all loaded with meaning, and those meanings are constantly being renegotiated. (Smithsonian)
LET’S TALK BRANDING
Faris did an interview with the Belgium branding podcast, covering definitions of strategy terms, attention and agency economics and modern brand building, the bizarre divisions between branding, marketing and advertising people, how all impressions aren’t equal, why collaboration is hard, snakes and ladders as a purchasing model and the fachidiot problem. Plus the headshot is mid-pandemic beard with crazy eyes… (Apple Podcasts, Stitcher)
Strands of Genius is currently read by 12,000 subscribers. Support us by sponsoring an issue, becoming a member of The School of Stolen Genius, or encouraging friends or colleagues to subscribe.
:: WHAT WE’RE THINKING ABOUT: PRESENTS & PRESENCE ::
Presents are a substitute for presence. Not necessarily a very good one, but a culturally understood one nonetheless. We send our apologies, our thoughts and prayers, our condolences, our best wishes, our tidings of comfort and joy [COMFORT AND JOY!] but we truly send our presence by sending presents. We also send this newsletter, which is a bit like a present.
Beyond the wordplay, those of us still in lockdown like or lockdown lite situations are living remotely. It’s not working remotely when we are celebrating birthdays on Zoom and seeing each other’s Christmas jumpers [sweaters] through a screen. Remote living isn’t easy for a social species, it’s hard to communicate holistically to a face and impossible to hug a conference call, taste someone’s baking, or smell their gravy. We need touch, which is making us think of things we can send, so people we love can touch something from us. Beyond the multi-sensory deprivation, there is the feeling. Everything and everyone seem further away than usual. Are you still there?
But in another way, maybe presents are just an excuse, a reason to suddenly get back in touch after a long year when you wanted to be in touch more but you just couldn’t handle anything else.
A quick ‘what’s your address’ email or text or whataspp or message [why is communication so hard nowadays can we please have less inboxes] has triggered a bunch of conversations for us, refreshing the connections, reactivating the nodes, without too much of the inevitable 2020 catch-up baggage. Just enough. Since presents are all about relationships, well … it seems to be working so far.
:: AND NOW… JEDI JUNGLE ::
By a friend of Genius Steals, Eclectic Method
If we can ever be of help to you, even outside of a formal engagement, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
faris & rosie & ashley | your friends over at geniussteals.co
@faris is always tweeting
@rosieyakob hangs out on instagram
@ashley also writes for deaf, tattooed & employed
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It's called Genius Steals because we believe ideas are new combinations and that nothing can come from nothing. But copying is lazy. We believe the best way to innovate is to look at the best of that which came before and combine those elements into new solutions.
Co-Founders Faris & Rosie are award-winning strategists and creative directors, writers, consultants and public speakers who have been living on the road/runway since March 2013, working with companies all over the world. Our Director of Operations is nomadic like us, our accounting team is based out of Washington, our company is registered in Tennessee, and our collaborators are all over the world. Being nomadic allows us to go wherever clients need us to be, and to be inspired by the world in between.
Hit reply and let’s talk about how we might be able to work together :)